The Magdalene

Several years ago, on another site, I wrote a story about one memorable afternoon’s encounter with a remarkable young woman. At the time, I had a little furniture business that specialized in bringing old, American made furniture back to life. That particular winter afternoon, I was on the hunt for something really special and was exploring “junk shops” in an old mill town. Perhaps, it’s because looking out my window and seeing overcast skies and a construction dirtied street that I am now reminded in some way of that town and that day. But, what I found that afternoon has stayed with me all these years.

Would you tie this for me?

She held up a silver medallion hanging from a short, thick cord. It seemed an act of someone both innocent and yet filled with a nothing else to lose resignation. Annie has been around. 

Sure, why not.

She stepped from behind the display counter, turned her back to me and lifted her long brown hair.

Why was I nervous? Maybe, because I feared for her vulnerability. I was, after all, almost a complete stranger. After a bit of fumbling, a decent knot was tied and Annie admired her new bit of flash. I could see, too, that she really had a thing for rings. Every finger of both hands had at least one.  If hands could talk Annie’s would cry, See me, please. She had become invisible to everyone but herself.

With no one else in the shop it was easy to talk. She told how she displayed the furniture and bric-a brac and the care she would take in polishing the old wood.  She loved having something to do. She loved making things that had seen better days look worthwhile again. If only she could get a few more hours or a bit more money.

It’s hard getting thirty dollars for an eight hour day, she said. And, only three days a week at that. No one else will give me a job. Heck, hardly anybody around here will talk to me. My sisters won’t. My brother, either. He lives only a few blocks away and he won’t talk to me. My boyfriend mostly yells at me and calls me stupid. Hits me sometimes. But, he better watch out.  Someday…

Are you tired, Annie? I guessed what her tiredness was. I had seen it before.                                        

No, she said, it’s my medication. Actually methadone. I take the train to Bridgeport to get it. It really makes me tired. But, it’s better than… You know.

Yeah, I do. How long have you been off the stuff, Annie?

Oh, for years.

Where is this conversation coming from, I’m thinking?

I started when I was nine.

What! Nine?

Yeah. My parents were users and they gave it to me – my sisters and brother, too.  We lived in Bridgeport, then. She told me the street.

I knew the place well, it wasn’t really a street. Annie had grown up in an alley and I had driven past it several times every day for three years. I didn’t recall seeing Annie, though.  At least not this Annie.

So, my father molested me. And, then, so did his brother. I really hate him. He still tries to see me. I’d like to kill him. My sisters tell me to just let it go, it happened to all of us and, it’s in the past. But, I can’t let it go. Annie gets quiet and stares at nothing…but at something.

Well, at least I got off the stuff. No more heroin. Or coke. No pills. Just the meth. It makes me tired, though. I know I messed up my life.

But, Annie, you’re trying. You never really got a break.

She polishes a table top for what seems a long time, trying to hide the scratches and scars. 

You know, no matter how much they beat me down, I’ll never completely break, she says.

No, Annie, never give up. Never.

Then, a customer walks in and I turn to leave the shop.

Wait, she says, and walks me to the door.

Thanks.

For what?  

For talking to me. I won’t forget it. Really.

Neither will I, Annie. I hope you have a happy Christmas.

Well, at least I got one present, even if it is from myself. She lifted her new medallion and smiled.

She could not possibly know that she had also just given a gift to me.

Merry Christmas and may God protect you, Annie.

Punked

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Nobody is going to punk her.

Today’s news carried the tragic report of an eight year old girl that died from injuries she had sustained several months ago. The details of the report, although few, are bizarre and shocking. The girl was at home with her family when she became involved in a game of Dare. Someone dares you to do something and if you do it you get to challenge them. If you don’t fulfill the dare, well, it depends on the group playing. This eight year old girl, surrounded by her family – adults and other children – was given the dare to drink a glass of boiling water using a straw. She accepted and the resulting injuries sent her to the hospital where, after several operations she was returned home, but with lingering complications. Two days ago she complained of breathing difficulties and before the arrival of an ambulance, she died.

Comprehending what type of family would allow this type of “game” to take place in the presence of adults is even really beyond the ability of someone that has seen a lot. But, what has left me absolutely shocked is the explanation and rationale of the events as explained by one of the adults witnessing the game – the little girl’s aunt. Going forward, I will refer to the little girl as, “Angel”.

Aunt to Reporter: Well, they were all playing that Dare game. Everyone knows you don’t dare Angel, because she will not be punked (note from Bill -while there are several definitions of the slang term, “being punked”, in this instance it refers to being made to feel someone’s inferior).  She will accept the dare and do it. Everyone knows that’s the way Angel is. So when they brought out the boiling water and dared her to drink it with a straw, she did. She wasn’t going to be punked. No, sir, nobody is going to punk her.

Angel, unfortunately, is not alone in refusing to be punked and then paying the consequences. Every day and I do mean every day, there are reports of people, many of them kids, shooting and being shot, killing and being killed. All of the old excuses for violence: the lack of jobs, the need for more gun control, poverty, poor housing, etc., etc., simply cannot explain what is going on. Here in Jacksonville we have an abundance of jobs, and good ones. What is considered to be a rundown neighborhood here would pass for a middle-class neighborhood in many cities up North. There are miles of beachfront and riverfront open to everyone, recreational opportunities are so many and so varied they can’t be counted. Most cost little or nothing. Yet, something is destroying us. Is it drugs? Is it families that teach their kids to not be punked, no matter what? What is happening?

For the sake of Angel and all the other Angels, we had better find out.